Bid to build heritage centre for Winterton-on-Sea’s 118-year-old rescue boat still on track

Two years after a forgotten Norfolk lifeboat was saved from destruction, an ambitious project to restore the 118-year-old boat is back on course.

The Edward Birkbeck lifeboat, which saved 96 lives while working from Winterton-on-Sea between 1896 and 1925, was brought back to Norfolk in 2012 after being found abandoned in a Welsh harbour.

The Winterton-on-Sea Lifeboat Restoration Group was formed and worked tirelessly to strip to boat back to its original state, but was forced to mothball the scheme when they could not find a home.

The boat is still in storage but, as the group takes steps to become a registered charity, work to build a permanent heritage centre where the Edward Birkbeck can be based is under way again. Volunteers have cleared the site of the former lifeboat shed not far from the Dunes café and trustees are on board to push the project forward.

For Barbara Dyble, of Caister, seeing a modern version of the old shed take shape brings back memories of her grandfather, Walter.

Walter Henry 'Tash' Dyble was the last coxswain of the Edward Birkbeck, taking charge from 1920 to 1925.

Mrs Dyble was visiting graves at Winterton churchyard – laying flowers for her parents, Walter and Caroline as well as Tash, who died in 1961, and his wife Ethel – when she heard about the restoration of the lifeboat.

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She has since been to visit the restoration, even bringing visiting cousins from Knoxville, USA, to see the ongoing work.

'A heritage centre for Winterton would be fantastic,' said Mrs Dyble.

'And having it so close to the car park and café will bring even more people in.'

By clearing the site of the old shed of sand, restoration volunteers uncovered the foundations of the wooden building which was pulled down in the 50s.

While early estimates suggest it could cost upwards of £40,000 to build a replica in modern materials, villagers are pulling together plans – they have brought in a structural engineer to survey the site, are creating scale drawings and gearing up to apply for funding.

Their ambitious aim is not only to have a permanent home for the Edward Birkbeck or a dedicated space to exhibit artefacts and stories of Winterton's past, but to breathe life into a sustainable heritage centre where the old boat could be hauled across the sand and launched into the sea. Bev Kay, chairman of the restoration group, said work on site had already revealed more about the old lifeboat and its crews than they knew a year ago.

'We knew that's where the site was but we've learnt a lot; we have also found brickwork, metal fixings which we assume connected the wooden building to the base,' she said.

'We also found trenches in the base we think might have been for rollers/winching the boat in. We've also uncovered the start of what looks like a runway towards the sea, with beach cobbles laid into the sand.'

The lifeboat shed was built by local merchant W Hubbard at a cost of £630 in 1884, suggesting the foundations uncovered are 130 years old.

For more information, or to get involved on the Winterton-on-Sea Lifeboat Restoration Group, call Mrs Kay on 01493 394954, email woslifeboat@gmail.com or vist www.wintertonlifeboatrestoration.org. The group's progress can be followed on Facebook, search for Winterton on Sea Lifeboat Restoration Group.

Are you preserving part of East Anglia's heritage? Email lauren.rogers@archant.co.uk.

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